FPSF 2016 Rundown, Pt. 3: Zeds Dead + The Heavy + Chicano Batman + Children of Pop + The Coathangers + Against Me! + X Ambassadors + Deadmau5 + Refused + Plague Vendor + Modest Mouse

fpsf1And here we are, the day before Free Press Summer Festival 2016 truly kicks off (Sat., June 4th, & Sun., June 5th, over at the mercilessly flat, heat-reflecting NRG Park Yellow Lot), back with another (and probably final) pile of previews.

I’ve got a weird feeling about tomorrow, I’ve gotta say, between the flooding that’s going on across the Houston metropolitan area — with people being evacuated from Rosharon and rescued from flooded-out homes — and this goddamn stomach bug that’s wiped me out. At the same time, though, I’m excited at the chance to see a lot of the folks playing, even if I’m unable to make it through the whole damn thing this year (a first, for me). We’ll see how it goes, I guess…

And hey, in the meantime, there’s some other cool stuff you can read about FPSF outside of this here blog. Enjoy some words, eh?:

Also, make sure you check out Creg Lovett‘s little chat about the State of Rock & Roll with cool local dudes King Finn — that’s right on over here, should you feel so inclined. Good? Good.

Okey-doke — and with that, here we go with the actual writeups:

zedsdead2Zeds Dead
Okay, so I feel the need for some honesty, right up front. When I first saw the name Zeds Dead on this year’s FPSF lineup, I got confused and thought — and yeah, you can start laughing now — it was Zedd playing once again. But nope, it turns out Canadian duo Zeds Dead (Dylan “DC” Mamid and Zachary “Hooks” Rapp-Rovan) are about as far from Zedd’s brightly-colored anthems as you can get, use of electronics notwithstanding.

Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you; the group’s 2014 EP, Somewhere Else, is dark and dangerous-sounding, a dimly-lit stroll through the bad part of town where your rational brain knows you probably shouldn’t be going alone. There’s a fair amount of a dubstep influence evident in the sound, to be sure, but even more than that, it draws heavily from hip-hop, showcasing the obvious love DC and Hooks have for the genre. Not every EDM act could do production for hip-hop artists and pull it off, but these guys pull it off and make it look freaking easy. Which makes sense, actually, because that’s how the pair got their start, producing hip-hop tracks, before segueing into doing live DJ shows. Either way, I’m no longer confused — just pretty damn intrigued. (Jeremy H.)
[Zeds Dead plays at 5:50PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Mars Stage.]

theheavy1The Heavy
I’d never honestly heard of British band The Heavy before they appeared on the FPSF lineup this year, and now that I have, I cannot comprehend how the fuck that happened. How can I not have heard something this utterly badass before now, dammit? I mean, we’re talking about a band that blends old-school, gritty funk, street-level rock, James Brown-style soul, and dark, dark blues and rolls into all up into a tight, rubbery ball of awesomeness. Oh, and did I mention the horns? Holy shit, y’all.

The Heavy are what funky, dirty, soulful blues-rawk should sound like, no doubt about it. It’s raw and unpolished but still just as smooth as it needs to be (again, see those dang horns…), with frontman Kelvin Swaby crooning and howling like a man possessed over those thumping, stomping drums and that funky, scuffed-up guitar sound. It turns out, by the way, that I have heard this band before, at least in 5-second clips all over commercials and such — their track “How You Like Me Now?” has popped up everywhere, and I recognized it the second it came on. (Jeremy H.)
[The Heavy plays at 1:20PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

chicanobatman1Chicano Batman
If you want to get friendly with the ladies while sipping on a Metropolitan, throw on Chicano Batman‘s album Cycles of Existential Rhyme. It’s great for fire pits and frozen drinks. This four-piece band from Los Angeles is nothing like I’ve heard before — “drawing from a spectrum of influences ranging from psychedelia, soul, to Tropicalia.” More like Latin-infused lounge, complete with three-piece suits and a little ruffle. Mod lounge is revived in a quite dimly-lit L.A. back street, where you can hear the soothing voices of a little late-night Spanish tongue solo driven by organ and classic guitar. And I’m sure my efforts to continue describing are futile, so please Google or Spotify them and listen for yourself. (Tracy L.)
[Chicano Batman plays at 2:10PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Venus Stage.]

childrenofpop1Children of Pop
I swear, it seems like every time I listen to Children of Pop (aka Chase DeMaster), the band/group/project/whatever has already mutated into something totally new from the last time I took a listen. What Does 69 Mean? is the perfect proof, taking the electro-pop sound I’d heard on earlier releases and inverting it, so there’s far more “electro” than “pop” going on; sure, it’s still pop, on a certain level, and I hear neat echoes of both Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads at points, but the electronic influence seems to’ve taken a more central role this time around.

Which isn’t a bad thing, considering what DeMaster does with it. The songs on What Does 69 Mean? bump and wriggle along in a haze of messy, staticky electronics, funky synths, and glitched-out beats, all with his chilled-out, treated vocals hovering over the top of things. It’s like what some sort of never-gonna-happen collaboration between Prince and Underworld might’ve sounded like, had the stars ever aligned in just the right way. Damn. And now I’m sad. (Jeremy H.)
[Children of Pop plays at 11:10AM on Sat., June 4th, at the Mercury Stage.]

thecoathangers1The Coathangers
Formed in 2006, The Coathangers consist of Julie Kugel (Crooked Coathanger), Meredith Franco (Minnie Coathanger), and Stephanie Luke (Rusty Coathanger). They’re a Southern feminist garage-indie-rock band on Suicide Squeeze Records, a Seattle-based record label. However, a vegan with an iron deficiency, a hot chic, and a mousy trio hail from Atlanta, Georgia. Nosebleed Weekend is their fifth and most recent full length album; recorded in Hollywood, California, this year.

Like a nosebleed weekend, it is a vacation album — for driving with the windows down, desert driving to Coachella Festival or up the northwest coast. Their songs consist of catchy chord progressions similar to surf guitar (think Ventures and a little DK). “Watch Your Back,” off the album, has a bit of a heavy, even punk, influence, similar to X-meets-Siouxsie, and they say you can “never go back,” but they can pull off going back in the day. It’s got a wishy-washy feel, and I love the lyrics in “You Burn Me”. They even throw in a doggy chew toy for one song — “Squeeze Tiki” — brilliant. (Tracy L.)
[The Coathangers play at 12:30PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]

againstme1Against Me!
With a deep smokers voice and long hair in a dress, Laura Jane Grace (aka the lead singer) comes off as an angry Southern belle, all in black, burning Bibles in the back swamps of Florida, with ’60s sci-fi alligators on golf courses, metalheads, and mothers crying. Against Me! has created a modern melodic punk-borderline-rock genre for trans, kiddos, and the elders as they address American middle class failure, drug addiction, and gender identity crisis. A bit of a post-Strokes, Vines, and Interpol mixed together with big, bold intrinsic drumming. “Should have been a mother, should have been a wife.”

Transgender Dysphoria is an anthem album as he recalls drinking with the jocks, summer in a dress, he’s a “hot chic now, and they don’t know it.” God bless his transexual heart. Speaking from experience, as Laura Jane has gone through a transformation himself, from the 2007 release of New Wave to the 2014 Transgender album. In fact, a soon-to-be-released memoir Tranny is slated for release in November 2016. But let’s not forget about the other guys — this is an amazing band whose sound can transition from raw/garage rock sound to disco-punk, incorporating a danceable groove. (And I have danced to them — good times.) (Tracy L.)
[Against Me! plays at 5:40PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Venus Stage.]

xambassadors1X Ambassadors
Once, there was a band called Ambassadors. They put out an amazing, mind-blowing album called Litost, which I freaking loved, and which was packed full of quirky, funky-but-nowhere-near-cheesy, powerful soul, like Maroon 5 if Adam Levine still had one (ba-dm-ch! sorry, couldn’t let it go by). “Unconsolable” was/is intense and loose, with an African-tinged beat, and “(O Death)” was/is gospelized and defiant and weird, and then “Falls,” the lone “real” rocker on there, was a full-on blast of awesomeness that I am physically compelled to yell along with when it comes over the speakers.

And then…the band was gone, sort of. Flash forward a couple of years, and my kid is listening to something she really likes, and hey, that sounds really damn familiar… Turns out X Ambassadors, now big names with songs on movie soundtracks and high-profile buds like Imagine Dragons (who apparently helped get them signed to Interscope Records), was that same band, just with an “X” added, and no mention of Litost in their current official bio. Why the change? I’ve got no clue, although I’d assume there was another band out there with a too-similar name, since that’s generally how these things go. Happily, while Litost ended up in the dustbin, at least some of the music didn’t — “Unconsolable” and “Litost” stuck around, and so did the band’s overall sound, especially Sam Harris‘s soulful vocals and the overall funky-rock vibe. They may not be quite the band I fell for, but I’m psyched to see the “new” Ambassadors, even still. (Jeremy H.)
[X Ambassadors plays at 4:20PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Mars Stage.]

A big problem I have when I try to write about EDM is that, frankly, I just don’t know enough, haven’t been exposed to enough. Hell, for a large chunk of my adult life, anytime somebody tried to play me something electronic, I rolled my eyes and sneered at ’em; it took listening to Underworld’s “Born Slippy” to finally turn my head around, but even that particular phase waned after a few years. So when it comes to modern EDM, I know names but not styles, or even most of the sub-genres (although I do know enough to inform my 12-year-old that half the things she listens to and calls “dubstep” certainly aren’t).

So what can I say about Deadmau5, then? After listening to while(1<2) — which I gather may not be representative of all his music, but I couldn’t resist the programmer-nerd joke — I have to say that I was surprised that it wasn’t all dancefloor-shaking bangers; a lot of what’s on there is relatively mellow, chilled-down music that sounds to me less like music for the club and more like music for a long, quiet drive out on an empty freeway at night. It’s dark and murky, with just a hint of menace, but with a lot of beautiful, seductive moments, as well. I’m curious to see what the experience is like live, that’s for sure… (Jeremy H.)
[Deadmau5 plays at 8:45PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Mars Stage.]

Oh, man. This one’s turned out to be an excellent surprise, at least to me. See, I knew Swedish punk icons Refused had reformed (for the second time) and were playing FPSF this year — and that, by itself, was enough to make me jump around ecstatically — but I had no clue ’til this week that they’d put brand new music just last year, with new album Freedom. Holy shit.

All of which is to say that I’m totally enthused about the chance to finally get to see this band play. 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come is absolutely classic, a chunk of so-weird-it-makes-sense punk-jazz rock that’s stood the test of time these past couple of decades better than a lot of its cohorts, with the song “New Noise” appearing everywhere from movie soundtracks to TV shows to video games; and I totally get why, because it’s like the ultimate catharsis song, the “drop” before drops became a thing (which also explains why Le Castle Vania’s covered the song live). Expect the crowd for this set to be insane, folks. (Jeremy H.)
[Refused plays at 4:50PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

plaguevendor1Plague Vendor
Don’t let the name fool you; California band Plague Vendor isn’t anything even remotely death metal-related, I’m happy to report. Instead, the band is a snarling, speeding, burning ball of razorwire careening down the highway, bashing into signs and other vehicles and never giving a shit; it’s fast, driving punk rock with drone-y rhythms, laser-slashing guitars, and vocals that bring to mind The Misfits at their absolute best. New album Bloodsweat is one hell of a listen, all fury and menace and swampy murk, and it’s damned brilliant for that. I can’t believe these guys have only been around since 2009 — they play like a band that’s been alive and in the punk scene for a couple of decades longer than that, at least. Fans of The Cramps, early White Stripes, Dax Riggs, or The Points, this one’s for you. (Jeremy H.)
[Plague Vendor plays at 12:10PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

modestmouse1Modest Mouse
I’m gonna wrap things up with one of the headliners of FPSF 2016, and a band I’m simultaneously excited to see and nervous as hell about, Modest Mouse. I can hardly believe, looking back now, that Isaac Brock and his revolving cast of compatriots are Grand Old Men (and Women) of Indie-Rock; I can still remember when a college friend introduced me to 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West, which immediately grabbed hold of me with its odd, off-kilter vocals and guitars and just-barely-holding-onto-sanity lyricism. At the time, it seemed so goddamn real, so painfully honest, with Brock baring his demons and pain for all to see, and I was bowled over by it. I listen to it regularly even now.

Which kind of brings me to my issue with the band’s more recent stuff. I’ve referenced my kid a couple of times already in these writeups because, hey, I’m old. And being an Indie Music Dad, when she told me how much she liked “Lampshades On Fire,” off last year’s Strangers to Ourselves, I gleefully jumped at the chance to show her A) that Dad is cool, and B) there’s a lot of other Modest Mouse music out there, too (and yes, it was way more “A” than “B,” I’ll admit it). So I played her “Heart Cooks Brain,” still my favorite track off West, and her eyes got wide as saucers while her eyebrows converged to a single point. “Um, Dad — this is terrible.”

So, I dunno. I listen to Strangers to Ourselves, and I like it okay, and there’s some neat stuff there — “Lampshades,” for one, is a quirky, catchy-as-hell track — but it doesn’t have the same risk, the same inventiveness, as the older stuff, to me. And I guess that’s inevitable, really; Brock is in a far different place now from where he was back then, and I’m glad for that, because from the outside it seemed like a dark, lonely place. I’m just worried that now I’ll be That Guy Yelling for Only Old Songs Nobody Young Knows at the Concert. I guess that’s the place I’m at now, right? (Jeremy H.)
[Modest Mouse plays at 9:40PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

Alright, people — that’s all we’ve got time for this year, I’m afraid. Hope to see y’all out there at NRG this weekend; I’m going to attempt to drug myself up and make it out somehow, dammit.

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